The eighteenth century French poet Jean Pierre Claris de Florian wrote, “Plaisir d’amour ne dure qu’un moment/ Chagrin d’amour dure toute la vie.” (Pleasure of love lasts only a moment; the sorrow of love lasts all of life) “
The twentieth century duo of bossa nova composer Tom Jobim and lyricist Vicinius de Moraes produced the lovely and haunting “Felicidade,” which begins, “Tristeza nao tem fin; felicidade, sim” (Sadness has no end; happiness, yes)
How these two sets of lines, written centuries apart at a great geographical remove from each other resonate not so much in our minds alone but also profoundly in our hearts.
Brazilian audiences often applaud with great fervor when Felicidade is being performed.
There is no way to put into words how Tom Jobim’s music works, with its limber rhythms and understated fluency. But the music has a flavor that might almost be called a happy melancholy, a wise appreciation of what life is and of our situation in this life which is so rich and yet also limited.
The pleasure of love and happiness are always limited in their tenure. We know this before, during and after. It is a knowledge against which we struggle, even one against which we revolt. Yet the struggle and the revolt are to no avail. We can no more give them up than we can prevail in them. We are well and truly caught. It is a part of our nature that we struggle and that we revolt against the fleeting nature of the pleasure of love, of our happiness.
After the pleasure of love, after the intimate glory of happiness, we are left with what endures, the sorrow of love, sadness that has no end. But why do these endure? They endure because they are the closest that we can come to what we have lost. Sadness is how we stay in touch with our former happiness, real or imagined.
In our minds, in our hearts, the sorrow of love, sadness that has no end yet bear the scent of the happiness of the pleasures of love that preceded them. They are also preservation devices, because they give us access to experience that we can not afford to lose.
Without the sorrow of love that lasts all life long, without sadness that has no end, we would be bereft of essential parts of ourselves. We would have no way back through the labyrinth of experience to what made us feel most ourselves. We can only miss what we miss because it is present to us in our missing.
The Brazilian audiences that applaud when “Felicidade’ is announced recognize that Jobim and Moraes are offering them a real pleasure, a retreat that is at once an advance, a piece of art that is equal to the internal complexity of experience. When we listen, we are happy again but in a new way. Isn’t this enough?